The traditional Lao calendar is a solar-lunar mixed. The year itself is a rocketed
by solar phases while the months are divided according to lunar phases. The Lao
Buddhist Era (BE) calendar started in 638 BC.
Festivals in Laos are largely linked to agricultural seasons or historical Buddhist
holidays and the general word for festival in Lao is “BOUN.” In general lao people
like to party and they enjoy festivals as long as possible. Some of the festivals –
like the new year – inofficially start a few days earlier and go on for about a week.
If you want to have fun instead of sightseeing you should choose the Pi Mai (Lao New Year Festival)
Festivals & Holidays
Laos celebrates many annual festivals called “Boun”, which are particularly enjoyable and beautiful, signifying traditional aspects of Lao lifestyle. Most festivals are connected with religion and the yearly rice farming cycle. The timing of the festivals is calculated according to the Buddhist lunar calendar.
- Vat Phou Festival in Champasak Province : This festival is held during the third full moon of the lunar calendar on the grounds of the enchanting pre-Angkorian Vat Phou ruins in Champasak. Festivities include elephant races, buffalo fights, cock fighting, and traditional Lao music and dance performances. To coincide with the festival, a trade fair is held to showcase products originating from southern Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
- Sikhottabong Festival in Khammouane Province : This traditional religious festival is held at SikhottabongStupa, located about 8 kilometers to the South of Thakhek town. The stupa was built between the 9th and 10th Century by King Nanthasene and was restored to its original grandeur during the 1950’s.
- BounKhao Chi (Makhaboucha) : A ceremony is held at the “Vat” (temple) in the morning, when a special bread made of “sticky rice” is offered. This festival is held during the third full moon of the lunar calendar.
Elephant Festival in Sayaboury Province : As a living icon with important symbolic connotations and historical associations in Laos, the elephant is an animal dear to the hearts of the Lao people.
BounPha Vet : An offering ceremony where a donation is made and one’s future is read during the three day-three night festivals.
“Boun Pi Mai” Lao’s New Year : Lao New Year is celebrated at the same time each year (April 14-16). This year, the 16th is the first day of the New Year. On the 13th, Buddha images are taken out of the temples to be cleansed with scented water by devotees, and placed on special temporary altars within the compounds of the “Vats” (temple). Devotees gather the scented water falling off the images, to take home and use it to pour on friends and relatives, as an act of cleansing and purification before entering the New Year. On the evening of the 15th, the images are returned to their proper shrines within the temples. Boun Pi Mai is a time for much joyous celebration, with good deeds and prayers in anticipation the New Year.
Boun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival) : A ceremony praying for rain is performed at the temple in the morning. In the afternoon, people gather in fields on the outskirts of villages and towns to launch the rockets with much abandoned revelry. Villages, communities and departments compete for the “best decorated” and the “highest traveling” rocket. Beginning around the middle of May, the festivals are staggered from place to place to enable more participation and attendance. This is the time when an offering to the spirits can be made in a corner of one’s garden, early each morning.
Boun Visakhaboucha : This festival is held during the sixth full moon of the lunar calendar for the Buddha. Candlelight processions are held in temples to mark the birth date of Buddha.
BounAsalahabouchaBounKhaoPhansa (Buddhist Lent) : This is the beginning of the Buddhist Lent. During the next three-month period, monks spend most of their times in prayer and meditation and are restricted from spending nights in other “Vats”. This festival is held during the eighth full moon of the lunar calendar.
BounKhaoPadabdin (Rice) and Boat Racing Festival in LuangPrabang : At the KhaoPadabdin ceremony day, people visit local temples to make offerings to dead ancestors as well as to share merit-making. This festival includes boat racing on the Nam Khan River and a trade fair in LuangPrabang, the World Heritage town.
BounKhaoSalak (Rice) : This is for offerings to be made for dead ancestors to obtain merit. Popular and exciting longboat-racing competitions are held to celebrate the River. This festival is held during the tenth full moon of the lunar calendar.
Boun Ok Phansa and Boat Racing Festival : The festival held after the end of the monks’ three-month fast and retreat during the rainy season (KhaoPhansa). At dawn on the first day, donations and offerings are made at temples around the city. In the evening, candlelight processions are held at temples and hundreds of colorful floats decorated with flowers, incense and candles are set adrift down the Mekong River to pay respect to the river spirit. The following day in Vientiane, Savannakhet, Sayaboury and Champasak Province, a popular and exciting boat racing competition is held to celebrate the Mekong River.
Boat Racing Festival in Vientiane Capital : This is held on the Mekong River. At the same occasion a trade fair of agricultural products, local handicrafts, Traditional Lao music and dance performance are organized. In this festival, citizens donate offerings to dead ancestors to gain merit.
BounKhathin : This festival begins immediately after the last day of Lent, and lasts until the next full moon. During the one month period, devotees of the Buddhist faith help the monks to carry out their religious practice by making offerings of all their 9 requisites and other useful items.
That Luang Festival and Trade Fair in Vientiane Capital : This religious festival is held in and around That LuangStupa, the National Symbol of Laos, where hundreds of monks gather to accept alms and floral votives from the people. The festival includes a grand fireworks display at night. During the day, an international trade fair, showcasing tourism in Laos and other countries from ASEAN and the Greater Mekong Sub-region is held. During the same period a similar festival is also celebrated at ChiengTeungStupa in LuangNamtha Province.
National’s Day, Anniversary Lao.P.D.R, on 2nd Dec.
That Inhang Festival in Savannakhet Province : This festival will be held on the grounds of the splendid That InhangStupa which is located just outside the city of Savannakhet. An international trade fair will include exhibitions of tourism products from Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The fair will also include the performance of Traditional Lao music and dance, as well as a sports competition featuring football, boxing, tennis and local traditions, including a drumming competition.
Hmong New Year : The Hmong New Year is mainly celebrated in Oudomxay, Xiengkhouang, LuangPrabang and Vientiane Province. The Hmong New Year celebration features colorful displays of traditional costumes made from green, red and white silk and ornate silver jewelry. Music from traditional Hmong instruments such as the teun-flute, Hmong-style khene pipe and leave blowing is enjoyed. Other festivities include the Makkhon (cotton-ball) throwing ceremony, ox fighting, spinning-top races and crossbow demonstrations.